Football: Liverpool back in European big time

Liverpool 3 SK Brann 0 Liverpool win 4-1 on aggregate
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The Independent Online
Liverpool may not chill the blood with their ruthlessness in the Premiership, but it was difficult to fault them in Europe last night. Calm and clinical, they efficiently finished off SK Brann at Anfield to reach the semi-final of the Cup-Winners' Cup.

In a match when their defence was barely troubled by the sound but uninspiring Norwegians, Robbie Fowler's two goals - one a penalty - and Stan Collymore's second-half strike earned a 4-1 aggregate that probably under-stressed their superiority.

Their focus on the one European trophy to have eluded them hitherto is becoming firmer although winning it will not be as simple, as the last four comes straight from football's Debrett. Liverpool, Fiorentina, Barcelona and the holders, Paris St-Germain: whoever wins this competition will have earned it.

"We will have to be at our best whoever we meet next," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said, "just as we had to be at our best to defeat Brann. We played very sensibly. You talk about the patient part of football and we had that tonight."

Evans had stressed the need for attack underlined with caution before the kick-off and his team adhered to the letter. Once they had got over the alarm of Patrik Berger squandering two easy chances that suggested it might be one of their profligate nights, they won with some comfort. Brann tried but barely threatened, Liverpool were a menace almost every time they attacked - particularly once Collymore came on as a substitute. Liverpool's most fickle talent, he answered the Kop's chants for his appearance with a signature run that led to the second goal.

The need for Evans' stressing caution beforehand became apparent in the fifth minute when Eirik Skjaelaaen slipped inside Dominic Matteo to flash a header just by a post from Morten Pedersen's cross. This was an exception to the rule, however, for although Liverpool began slowly their tempo built steadily.

So slowly, in fact, that at one point Anfield was whistling with derision at the ponderous progress being made up the field. The mood changed drastically as Liverpool began to slice through the Norwegian defence and after 19 minutes the home team should have gone ahead when Fowler slipped a short pass between the centre-backs for Patrik Berger. The Czech beat the goalkeeper with a sharp turn to the left but his touch was too hard and the ball ran away for a goal-kick.

Berger's next intervention was hardly more inspiring because he failed to make contact with Jason McAteer's cross when a touch would have beaten Vidar Bahus. Yet, as Anfield despaired, a goal arrived after 25 minutes.

Its creation was a trademark flurry of short passes which saw the ball shoot from John Barnes to Steve McManaman and Fowler. The last was perfectly judged, allowing the England striker to burst on to it as Brann's defence was turning. His touch was too quick for Arne Vidar Moen, whose attempt at a tackle sent Fowler sprawling.

It was a penalty that was so blatant that the Norwegians offered only a derisory attempt at a protest and the spot kick was equally emphatic. Fowler side-footed to the goalkeeper's left as Bahus took off in the opposite direction.

Liverpool had to make an adjustment to their defence, Phil Babb coming on for Matteo, but the pattern after the interval matched the one before - even to the extent that Berger missed another opportunity after 55 minutes from McAteer's cross.

That prompted the crowd to call for Collymore, and to his credit he did not disappoint them. An unpredictable force, he swaggered into the match with a goal after 62 minutes. Barnes passed to him and the striker burst past two defenders before Per Over Ludvigsen's attempt at a tackle sent a ricochet off his ankle into the net.

The tie was as good as over but Fowler wanted to make a statement in more ways than one. His side-footed shot from 12 yards after 82 minutes was exemplary but the club may not be as appreciative of his subsequent gesture, lifting his shirt to reveal a message: "Support the sacked 500 dockers". It referred to a long-running dispute at Liverpool docks: one striker supporting many more.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Harkness, Wright, Matteo (Babb, h-t); McAteer, McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes, Bjornebye; Berger (Collymore, 59), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Ruddock, Thomas, Warner (gk).

SK Brann (4-4-2): Bahus; Paldan, Eftevaag (Gylfason, 44), Ludvigsen, Pedersen; Skjaelaaen, Helland, Moen, Hasund (Guntveit, 65); Flo, Mjelde. Substitutes not used: Tenden, Johannessen, Hollund (gk).

Referee: A Trentalange (Italy).

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